How is Assault Proven in Court?


This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may have been assaulted in the past or has questions around the topic:

What is Assault? Definitions & Meanings
Who Commits Assault & Why?
What counts as Assault?
How to Report Assault (and Who to Report it to)
How is Assault Proven in Court?
Punishment & Sentencing for Assault
How to Heal and Recover from Assault
What Impact Does Assault Have on Victims, Families & Friends?
What Effects Does Assault Have on Wider Society?
How can Assault be Prevented?
Assault Data & Statistics
Assault Helplines, Support & Further Reading

Assault offences are amongst the most common criminal charges bought before the courts.

It is important that victims including their friends and family know what to expect when the assault has been reported. What evidence and proof will they need?

In this guide we look at the answer to this question and explain the steps victims can take to seek justice for assault offences.

Is legal aid available to assault victims?

Domestic violence and domestic abuse are not regarded as criminal offences in themselves, however many types of conduct associated with them are criminal offences, assault offences are included in this.  Legal aid may be available if there is evidence that the individual or their children have been victims of domestic abuse or violence and cannot afford to pay legal cost.

Will I need to attend court as a victim or a witness?

Depending on the seriousness of the offence this may involve a court process in which you will be required to give evidence as a victim or witness during trial.  There are organisations such as Victim Support that provide help and support for victims throughout this process.

How is assault proven in court?

After reporting the assault to the police, the police will then carry out their investigation which may include the following;

  • They may attempt to gather forensic evidence and any other evidence that will support your allegations, for example photos of injuries etc.
  • Ask you to provide details of any other witnesses who can corroborate your report
  • May try to access medical records with your consent
  • May arrest and interview the offender

An arrest for an act of assault would be charged as one of three assault charges; Common assault, Actual bodily harm (ABH) and Grievous Bodily harm (GBH). After completing their investigation, the police normally pass the file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who will decide whether there is enough evidence and if it is in the public interest to charge and convict the offender. This may involve a court process in which you will be required to give evidence during trial.  In the evidential stage the CPS must be satisfied that there is enough evidence for a possible conviction. If there is insufficient evidence, the case cannot continue no matter how serious the matter is. For this reason you can see the importance of having good reliable evidence to support your case.

How long does an assault investigation take?

Investigations can take a long time, however the police should keep you informed at important points of the investigation. For example the police will let you know within 5 working days if the suspect is arrested, charged, released without charge, released on bail etc. If you have been the victim of a serious crime then you will normally get this information within 1 working day. You should contact the investigating officer if you find the investigation is taking too long or you want an update.

Can a statement be withdrawn in an assault case? And what impact can it have on the case itself?

If a victim or witness wants to withdraw their statement, they will need to contact the police or Crown Prosecution service (CPS) directly and make a request for this. The statement of withdrawal should contain reasons for withdrawing support for the prosecution, this request will also confirm that the original statement was true and that the application for withdrawal is being made without any duress. After receiving this request the investigator or prosecutor will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to continue and make an application for a witness summons, alternatively prosecution may decide not to proceed and drop the case.

What happens if the victim wins the case?

The defendant may be sentenced by the magistrates or judges at a sentencing hearing, or be penalised by way of community order or fine or both. Depending on the seriousness of the assault, the courts may also consider making compensation orders in relevant cases.

What happens if the victim loses the case?

The defendant will be acquitted (found not guilty) meaning the charge against them could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  If the defendant was in custody, they will be released immediately.  There are organisations such as Victim Support providing support for victims before, during and after court proceedings. The CPS has an initiative called the ‘Victims Right to Review Scheme’ this is for victims to seek a review of cases where the CPS has made a decision not to bring charges or to terminate proceedings.

We understand how difficult it is to experience abuse, whether it is yourself or someone you know, sometimes trying to find help is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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